Sly Dunbar discusses his favorite drummers of all time! [Listen 28:53 min]


S01 Ep09 (Part 3) – Sly Dunbar list of drummers that deserve their dues

Interview Date: October 23, 2011 @9am EDT

Special Guest: Sly Dunbar (a.k.a. one half of “Sly and Robbie” or also know by some as one half of  “the Riddim Twins”) is quite possibly the most important drummer in Jamaican Music History. Lowell Charles Dunbar’s impact on music (not just Reggae but music in general) is immeasurable. It is said that he has over 200 000 recordings behind his belt (not including remixes or Dubs); has had over 100 No.1 hits in Jamaica. He is easily one of the most influential drummers of the second half of the Century. In this podcast we Sly Dunbar gives a shout out to all his favorite drummers of all time. Drummers that laid down the foundation for Sly to create from. This is one for the books so enjoy and Merry Christmas!


Dub music draws a lot of controversy. It has been stated that this type of music was derided by the public at large in the early 1970′s for being too repetitive, creatively bankrupt, more the sort of music for children and fools, and even thought of as lacking the essential qualities of music itself. Extremely harsh criticism. And aside from the problem of these so-called critics taking for granted to know exactly what music is, and is not, adherents to this belief stated this in the days when the fervour of progressive rock was in full swing and prog rock was anticipated to take the penultimate position in musical appreciation astride the lofty heights as modern classical music, this also was comparing dub in opposition to prog. If the problem with that isn’t apparent offhand, it’s like saying that you love bacon, but you hate eggs, hash browns, and toast because they’re nothing at all like bacon. On the other hand, some have said that it is dub itself from all other musical forms that should be compared beside modern classical works of composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, and Vladimir Ussachevsky because of the “manipulation of spaciality. [1]” What it is that makes critics to overlook logical fallacies to measure one form of music against another and place modern classical at the zenith of the paradigm, I don’t know. So I won’t. Rather, I’d like to get into dub on it’s own merits and view it more in the time and place in which it emerged and was fostered: Jamaica in the 1960′s onward.

What Is Dub? Michael E. Veal states in his book Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae that “ . . . there remain several contrasting definitions of the term dub. [2]” Although Veal goes on to say that many Jamaicans view dub as nothing more than a type of erotically charged dancing and lists the Silvertones’ piece, Dub the Pum Pum as an example (pum pum = female genitalia), I think that it should be agreed here that dub is a type of Jamaican music like reggae, but stripped down to the rhythm, (or more appropriately, riddim,) to the groove, or essence. I touched on this in Episode #09. And while music with a good groove lends itself to be erotically charged, I wouldn’t say that this is a necessary component of dub.

Sly Dunbar explains it in his own words: “Dub is something like you play a rhythm, like, say, 5 people playing [a structured song]. And what happens is that engineer will take it and he will take out like, the vocals, he will take out the rhythm sections, take out the bass and horn and use it periodically, like sometimes, but the main influence is the bass and the drums, and he will put delay and things like that on the drums and reverb and you hear that splashing all over.”[3]

Veal states “But although it might sometimes sound staid in comparison to its digital descendants of today, dub in its day was messy, unruly, and subversive; its pioneers devised a new system of improvisation and helped transform the recorded popular song from a fixed product into a more fluid process.” This, I think, gets to the spirit of dub rather well, but don’t understand why Veal speaks of the attributes particularly in the past; I think this follows through to today. Grace Jones released an album this year with a full dub version alongside. With Sly and Robbie, Brian Eno and a high-tech studio lending their talents to the release, the dub album is precise and tight, the polar opposite of rustic, but if one were to describe the album as messy, unruly, and subversive, you wouldn’t be able to say they’re wrong because you could understand what they were getting at. This is the essence of dub. It’s the groove that strikes you deep down.

Yes, it’s minimalism of a sort. It’s how it’s worked therein that lies the magic. “And as for the notion of creative laziness, some of the effort that goes into reworking a tune is far greater than what went into the original. Men like King Tubby, Errol T, Scientist, and Mikey Dread are among the music’s biggest stars – Tubby is an acknowledged genius – yet what they do is remix other people’s work.”[5] King Tubby is credited as being the inventor of the concept of the remix. Without him and dub, some say that there would be no Fatboy Slim, or Massive Attack. [6]
Those who are experienced with composing short stories, or minimal musical pieces, be it modern classical, electronic, or dub, it is often more difficult to work the craft because of the tighter parameters and limited palette to draw from. King Tubby drew out new musical works from old ones, reworked the mixing board into the most important aspect of the recording, and literally built the board with his own hands. Sly Dunbar revealed this in his interview with GoingThruVinyl–“He had a sound; a sound system called Tubby’s like he is a technical engineer. He would make like amplifiers and all these things. You know? Very good; a genius. So he took up in his home or in his studio. But because he has this sound system he has to have special mixes of certain songs that when you go up against the song your version of the record will sound different. But Tubby would get all these tapes and whatever and he would filter out things and then remix it especially for his sound that you wouldn’t hear and was like nobody else’s version but his sound. So everybody still praise him and people still have a lot of respect for him. Because he was a very creative person; he created a lot of things inside the music; the delay and all the things we use.” [7]

Hopeton Brown, known as Scientist (aka The Dub Chemist), was protege to King Tubby, and had a similar introduction into music and electronics working in tv and radio repair, and building his own amps and electronics. Taken on as an assistant and later being allowed to mix, he quickly showed his ability and innovation; Tubby and Bunny Lee gave him the moniker because of it. He mixed his first hit record with Barrington Levy’s Collie Weed[8]. Armed with a jocular and creative style, Scientist has gone on to a prolific career and had his songs used in Grand Theft Auto 3, (although, perhaps used without his consent.)[9] These people knew how to work the sound because they knew the theory, the electronics of how to manipulate the sound, and the skill and creativity to work the tools they built.

The legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry, aside from his other influences in music, is responsible for spreading reggae and dub throughout the world. Well known as an eccentric, some say outright crazy, some say genius. For his influence in music he is spoken of in comparison to Ennio Morricone and Salvador Dali. He would lock himself in the studio for days at a time, draw ideas and sounds from found objects, work in a haphazard fashion and suggest ideas to the band that they found absurd, yet he’d come out with a finished product that all fit together and become a hit. This is the rare type of creative genius that you can’t help but find endearing. He holds the je ne sais quoi that shows up so rarely, but for those who can manifest the power produces someone like himself, Sun Ra, or Thelonius Monk. Perry is still performing, releasing and producing albums in his 70′s to great reviews. Brian Weitz of Animal Collective called his performance at All Tomorrow’s Parties 2011 “phenomenal.”[10] He released Rise Again this year with bassist and producer Bill Laswell with contributions from Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, Sly Dunbar, Bernie Worrell, and others.

And for those of you who don’t know, Perry is Father Christmas. If this confuses you, then hear it in his own words, “The secret from the sphinx is on my head, and this is the secret the sphinx have to tell you, that I am the IMF now and the father of the nation forever . . . Father Christmas. This is the return of Father Christmas with his magic mushroom.” He continues “I am the original rah from Egypt and I was there from the time when God give wonderful, beautiful Egypt for his people. Then I am Moses. I am Moses! I am Moses! I am Moses! Where is my rod? Here is my rod. Lightning is on my head. He didn’t die, he disappear in a ball of fire and then he come again to hurt his people. He warn you, if you fight against ganja Rastafari I let you suffer, but I won’t let you die. Until you know I’m ganja, then I will set you free.”

So there you have it. Lee Perry is Father Christmas. Some of you may want to rethink the type of cookies you’ve laid out for Santa’s visit. Let’s just all be together to say that we acted on a higher authority if the good intentions of dosing Santa on Christmas Eve happens to go awry. We did it according to his commandments to ease the suffering of the people.

I hope you’ve learned something here. So before you find yourself espousing the idea that all music of one sort or another is trash and completely without merit, think about what you’re saying, do a bit of research. Look into the book from the BBC, Reggae: The Story of Jamaican Music. You may find that there’s more to it, or a concept that enlightens you and breaks you out of your prejudice and you gain a rich appreciation in a whole new frontier of music. Unfortunately, for myself, I have to dismiss all modern classical music now as absolute rubbish for none of it being named something like “Adagio the Pum Pum” and never compelling me to jump up and bust a move.

Guthrie Alan Corwin

Sly Dunbar’s Top Drummer List

1. Lloyd Knibb – Starting off as a Jazz this drummer is near or at the top of every drummers list. He is most famous for being the drummer for the Skatalites.

2. Joe Isaac – Soul Venders (Studio One session men) 1967 “real rock” not happy with Studio one. W/ Jackie Mittoo (Skatalites Keyboard player)

3. Bunny Williams – The Soul Brothers

4. Phil Callender – Sound Dimensions (Worked with Clement “Coxsone” Dodd)

5. Winston Grennan – Rock steady Drummer (early reggae drummer who trained a lot of the drummers on the island) worked with Bob Marley and Paul Simon Dizzy Gillespie.

6. Paul Douglas – Toot’s the Maytals

7. Carlton “Santa” Davis – The Aggrovators and Roots Radics. He has worked with reggae artists such as Jimmy Cliff,Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, Big Youth, The Wailers,Peter Tosh, Andrew Tosh, Wailing Souls, Ini Kamoze,Big Mountain, Michael Rose, and Ziggy Marley.

8. Leroy “Hoursemouth” Wallice – Studio One The Gladiators, Inner Circle, Prince Far I, Sound Dimension, Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear, Ijahman Leviand Pierpoljak. Wallace has been credited with inventing the ‘Rockers’ rhythm.

9. Mikey ‘Boo’ Richards – now generation, worded at Studio one/Federal Studio/Lloyd the matador many other lab

10. Derrick Stewart as Stewie

11. Davie Jones – challis limitless

12. Duckie use to be in the Army

13. Drumbago Old reggae group

14. Largie use to play with Now Generation as a dance band and some studio work

15. Lincoln “Style” Scott – Dub Syndicate/Root Radic – contacted bill laswell?

16. Devon use to play with Lloyd Parks

17. Tin leg-use to play a lot of session-Casava Piece

18. Carlton Barrett-Wailers use to play lot of session

19. Hugh Malcom-use play with Tommy Mc Cook & Supersonics also lot of sessions

20. Earl Young of MFSB-groove master bad

21. Al Jackson of Booker T.& The M.Gs

22. Steve Gadd-bad bad

23. The Motown drummers

24. Anthony ‘Benbow’ Creary (Studio One Drummer)

25. Sparrow Martin was the drummer for Carlos Malcom Band

All in all nuff respect to all drummers in the world one loveSly Dunbar (November 1, 2011)

Article Citations

1 Veal, Michael E. “Electronic Music in Jamaica” Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. 2007. p39.

2 ibid p61.

3 GoingThruVinyl, 2011

4 Veal, Michael E. “Introduction” Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. 2007. p21.

5 Bradly, Lloyd “Dub Crazy.” Reggae: The Story of Jamaican Music. London, UK: BBC Worldwide Ltd. 2002. p99.

6 ibid p100.

7 GoingThruVinyl, 2011

8 “Scientist (musician)” Wikipedia (20 Dec. 2011).

9 ibid

10 “Lee Scratch Perry” (20 Dec. 2011).

11 Bradly, Lloyd “Don Drummond.” Reggae: The Story of Jamaican Music. London, UK: BBC Worldwide Ltd. 2002. p61.

12 ibid

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